30 January 2007

Royal treatment at Café del Rey, Marina del Rey, CA

This is a continuation of my story about our recent trip to southern California. My habit is to write about them sequentially, beginning with what happened first. Chapter 1: We arrived in California. We ate lunch. We went to a museum.

The trouble is they get posted in reverse chronological order. You’re about to read Chapter 2: We drove to Santa Monica. We walked the beach. We went back to our hotel. We found a restaurant for dinner. You are presented Chapter 2 before you’ve read Chapter 1. And then, depending on when you’re reading this, you may have already read Chapter 3 (which happened in the past but hasn’t been written yet) before reading Chapter 2 or 1.

Now even I’m getting confused.

We left the Getty Villa just as the sun sunk below the Pacific horizon. It was a beautiful sunset. Because of the cool weather and a stiff breeze, the air was crystal clear. Not a trace of Los Angeles’ infamous smog. As we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway back toward Marina del Rey, we enjoyed the gradual gradation as the sky slowly faded from hot orange to sultry red to slinky maroon to velvety black. The stars flickered on in the sky, and the lights of the city flickered on in front of us.

On our way along the highway, we entered Santa Monica and the famous pier. Since we had a late lunch, we weren’t hungry yet. So we decided to park, walk the beach, and check out the pier. It really was quite beautiful. As we approached the pier, we stopped to take a picture of the lights from the amusement park attractions. The pier itself was, honestly, quite tacky. Lots of teenagers and tourists and places to buy junky souvenirs.

After strolling back to our car, we finished the drive to our hotel. We decided to unwind a bit before finding a place for dinner. I confess. I turned on my computer and checked my work e-mails for the day. Sorry.

There were three restaurants within a couple blocks of our hotel – the Warehouse, Tony P’s, and Café del Rey. We picked Café del Rey. It proved to be a good choice.

We were seated at a quiet, private booth. It wasn’t too busy, and the server gave us ample time to peruse the menu and decide on food and drinks. I ordered a martini. My wife had a glass of wine.

Since we had eaten late, and because our body clocks were screwed up from the flight and the time zone changes, we weren’t too hungry. So we decided not to have a starter or salad.

The menu has a ‘day boat’ section that lists fresh fish and includes the name of the fishing boat that brought it in, the captain’s name, and the location. Maybe they have some regular customers who watch for the catch from a particular captain. But even if it’s just for effect, it was impressive to me. I ordered the ono. It was served with a potato sweet pea citrus risotto, chanterelle mushrooms, and a red wine tarragon reduction. I’ve never made a potato risotto before. It was good.

My wife had coriander rubbed tai snapper with bay shrimp in sour coconut sauce, roasted carrots, green tea soba, and pineapple salsa. It was very unique. Because it wasn’t so busy, our server lingered at the table while we asked some questions about the sauce on her fish. He answered what he knew but was stumped on some of the ingredients. My wife asked if the chef would come out and talk to us. We were impressed when a few minutes later, voila, there he was! He was very cordial. We talked about the recipe and the techniques for making the sauce. My wife asked if we could possibly have the recipe. He said he wasn’t sure if it was at hand in the kitchen. But he gave us his e-mail address and invited us to contact him when we returned home.

We were very satisfied with that answer. He disappeared back into the kitchen, and we ordered a dessert (and I had a cup of espresso). As we were paying our bill, in comes the chef with the recipe for the sauce on the fish. He had printed it out for us from the kitchen computer.

There was a chill in the California air and we were tired after a long day of travel, sightseeing, and good food as we strolled back to our hotel. Despite all my reservations about Los Angeles, it was a great start to our vacation.

22 January 2007

Lunch at Gladstone’s Malibu, CA

One of the things that made lunch at Gladstone’s in Malibu so enjoyable was the prelude. My wife and I were heading to Los Angeles for a couple of days vacation before a convention. We were leaving on a Monday morning flight. Naturally, it snowed Sunday night. So I got up early and cleared the driveway.

We had ordered a cab. But with the snow, we called and asked him to come a bit earlier. When he arrived, I don’t think he’d ever driven on snow before. We certainly didn’t expect the driver to take chances. But this was ridiculous. We made it to the airport, got our luggage checked, and got through security. We had time for a quick bite and a cup of coffee before our flight left.

Arriving in L.A., we got our rental car and found our hotel in Marina del Rey. We had decided to stay near the ocean and the beach, which also was reasonably close to our planned attraction for the trip – a visit to the Getty Villa in Malibu.

We got checked in and then started our drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. I’ve written before how I’m not a big fan of Los Angeles. My main complaint is that the city is too spread out, nothing is close, and the traffic is generally horrible.

At this point, we still hadn’t had anything to eat except for a half bagel at the Minneapolis airport. So as we neared Malibu, we started looking for a place to have lunch. That’s when we spotted Gladstone’s. The sun was shining brightly (though the temp was a bit chilly). The patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean was too inviting to drive by. So we pulled in.

The restaurant is a bit of a tourist draw. We didn’t have trouble getting a table. (It was, after all, 1:30 p.m.) There was a steady stream of customers arriving all the way through our lunch. They have the location, and their menu prices show they know it. The main problem is that many of the menu items really are dinner items that cost $20-$30. A bit steep for lunch; also more than we wanted to eat at midday.

But we were just so glad to be there, away from the snow and the ice, that we didn’t let it bother us. And best of all, the food was very good. My wife had a Cajun fish taco, served with black beans and Spanish rice. The fish was very fresh and lightly battered. The beans were very tasty and had crumbled white cheese of some kind on top. The rice was a little spicy, but not overwhelming. I had an Ahi tuna sandwich. It was coated with sesame seeds and done very nicely – not too rare, but also not overdone and dried out. The sandwich was served with tangy coleslaw and home-fried potato chips.

We both ordered a glass of wine. My wife had a pinot grigio and I had a sauvignon blanc. Both were very good and nicely complimented the fish. They also were not at all expensive. So we sipped our wine, enjoyed our lunch, got all of the travel stress out of our systems, and went to the Getty.

I thought the Getty Villa was a very unique museum. If you go, you should take one of the free orientation tours because it explains the whole concept of the place. The villa is modeled after actual Roman ruins. In a way, the villa is the artwork and provides a venue to display the fascinating collection of ancient artifacts. It was a great start to our vacation.